2020 SHL Eastern All-Star Roster

The roster for the 2020 Eastern Division All-Stars, as announced by coach Keith Shields, was as follows:

First Line:

LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton.  Last year, the voting in the East was dominated by fans of the Pistols and New York Night, the latter of which hosted the game.  Without the draw of hosting and with the Night’s lackluster record this year, votes from the New York metro area dipped considerably, while backers of defending champion Hamilton came out in force to support their heroes.  Alexander was the league’s top vote-getter, earning his fourth straight trip to the game and his third appearance in the starting lineup.  Although the feisty winger’s numbers are not quite up to his career norms, he is tied for the league lead in goals with 21.

D: Clayton “Crusher” Risch, Hamilton.  Backed by the voting power of the Greater Toronto Area, Risch was the top vote-getter among Eastern defenseman, making his second All-Star appearance and his first start.  The 24-year-old is on track for a career season; he’s already scored more goals in the first half (8) than he ever has in an entire year.  He isn’t just an offensive force, either; he continues to deliver strong play in his own end.  His 73 blocks is the second-most among Eastern players.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey.  In something of an upset, Valentine managed to hold off Hamilton’s Calvin Frye to make his first All-Star start since 2017.  Valentine is the leading man in Hershey’s famous “Love Line,” and he’s producing in line with his top season.  He’s currently in third place in goals with 20 and tied for third in points with 42.  He’s also among the top ten in plus-minus at +14, a distinction he shares with his fellow Love Liners.

D: Matt Cherner, Boston.  In another upset, Cherner surged into second place, ahead of Hershey’s Reese Milton and New York’s Dominic Sanchez, who have been the East’s starting defensemen in each previous All-Star Game.  Cherner reportedly benefited from a strong crossover vote, as fans from his previous teams in Dakota and Quebec cast ballots for him in significant numbers.  It’s his second All-Star appearance, and his debut representing the East; he showed up on the West’s roster back in 2018.  Like his fellow top-pairing blueliner Risch, Cherner has 8 goals and 28 points so far this season.

RW: Claude Lafayette, Hamilton.  The Pistols’ rabid voting base lifted Lafayette to his first ever All-Star start (and only his second overall start), appearing alongside his longtime teammate and friend Alexander.  Lafayette won his spot by less than 5,000 votes over Hershey’s Christopher Hart and New York’s Rick Nelson.  Lafayette is one of the league’s elite passers, and it’s no surprise that he leads the SHL in assists with 35.  His 42 points overall ties him with Valentine for the league’s third-highest total.

 

Second Line:

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey.  Shields mentioned during the lineup announcement that he has a great deal of respect for the Bliss, Hamilton’s fiercest rival.  His admiration came through in his picks, as he tapped three Bliss players (in addition to starter Valentine) to the lineup.  It’s the second All-Star selection for Sweet, who also appeared in the SHL’s inaugural midseason contest in 2017.  Sweet is a highly deserving choice; he leads the league in points with 44, and is in the top 10 in both goals (16) and assists (28).

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton.  Shields’ respect for Hershey was topped only by his affection for his own squad; the coach selected four players from his Vandy-winning, division-leading Pistols.  The veteran Smyth, though, is no homer pick; his 30 points are tied for the highest total among SHL defensemen, and his 26 assists are tied for fifth in the league overall.  He also leads the league in plus-minus rating with +17.  It’s Smyth’s third trip to the All-Star Game, making a reappearance in the lineup after a one-year absence.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton.  After Frye was beaten out by Valentine for the starting center spot, there was no doubt that Shields was going to tab his star for a spot.  Frye is only of only four Eastern players to have appeared in every All-Star contest to date.  Frye is tied with his teammate Alexander for the league lead in goals with 21, and his 43 points is the second highest total in the SHL.  “I’ll bet this is the last time for a long time that Calvin isn’t the starter,” said Shields.  “If he keeps producing the way he has been, he’s going to make it impossible for the fans to ignore.  He’s just a special, special player.”

D: Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton. It’s the third straight All-Star appearance for the 22-year-old Mulligan and the third appearance for a Hamilton defenseman in this lineup.  It’s the first time since 2017 that a single team landed a trio of blueliners on the roster; Michigan was the last team to accomplish the feat. The hard-hitting Mulligan brings an extra edge of the Eastern roster; his 68 blocks is sixth in the SHL and second on the Pistols to his linemate Risch.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey.  Hart joins his linemates Sweet and Valentine on the East roster.  Surprisingly, Hart is the only one of the trio who has appeared in every All-Star contest, though he has never started.  Like his fellow Love Liners, Hart is in the top ten in the league in points (39), assists (26), and plus-minus (+14).  “Last year, I had to carry the Love Line banner all by myself at the game,” said Hart.  “This time, I’ll be there with both my brothers, and that’s the way it ought to be.”

 

Third Line:

LW: Magnus Gunnarson, Hamilton.  At a loaded position, Shields tapping his own player again generated some controversy around the league.  Many felt that New York’s Chase Winchester or Boston’s Casey Thurman would be a more fitting choice.  But Gunnarson is having a strong season in his own right.  He has produced 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) at the halfway point.  And when Alexander missed several games with an injury in the first half, Gunnarson stepped in and kept the Pistols from missing a beat.  It all adds up to an All-Star debut for the 24-year-old winger.

D: Reese Milton, Hershey.  It’s the first time that Milton won’t be starting in an All-Star Game, but the Bliss blueliner keeps his string of appearances alive.  Milton’s offensive numbers (8 goals, 17 assists) are a tick below his career norms, but he remains as defensively strong as ever; his 77 blocks are the most in the East, and he maintains a solid +8 rating.

C: Alain Beauchesne, Boston.  The 22-year-old Beauchesne receives his second straight All-Star nod; his selection marks the first time that the Badgers have had more than one honoree.  This was another somewhat controversial choice: Night fans argued that Brock Manning should have gotten the call, while DC fans clamored for Harvey Bellmore.   But Shields went with the youngster, who leads Boston with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

D: Richard McKinley, Quebec.  The 21-year-old blueliner is the Tigres’ lone representative this year, and he makes his debut in the All-Star game.  Quebec is suffering through considerable offensive struggles this season, but McKinley is a relatively bright spot, having recorded 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists).  He also is tied for the team lead in blocks with 65.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington.  Like the Tigres, the Galaxy have only one All-Star representative.  This season, the honors go to McNeely, who will make his third appearance in the game.  He is second on the Washington roster in goals (with 11) and points (with 27).  “Honestly, I would have given it to Harvey,” said McNeely.  “But it they want me to go again, sure, I’ll go.”

 

Goalies:

Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton.  In a season when many of the East’s traditional top goalies are having down seasons, Koskinen’s solid performance and Hamilton’s strong voting base combined to earn the Pistols netminder his third straight All-Star trip and his second start.  Koskinen struggled in the opening weeks of the season, but he has improved as the season has gone along.  His 15 wins are second-most in the SHL; that achievement appears to have overshadowed his somewhat-subpar 3.14 GAA and .915 save percentage.

“Jersey Mike” Ross, New York.  With Shields in charge of choosing the East’s roster, is it a surprise that Ross is the lone Night player to make the All-Star squad?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But the veteran goaltender, who is another first-time All-Star, has had a surprisingly strong season.  Believe it or not, Ross has the highest save percentage (.923) among starting goalies in the East.  After planned starter Sherman Carter imploded, Ross stepped in as the primary starter and has helped keep the Night afloat in the playoff race.

Jackalopes Player Says Team Should Move

The Dakota Jackalopes financial struggles have been an open secret around the SHL for several seasons now.  The team has parted with almost all of its high-salaried players, cutting their payroll to the lowest in the league.  Unsurprisingly, the team’s record has declined along with its payroll, and attendance has drooped as well, a vicious cycle for the league’s smallest market.

By and large, Dakota’s players have been quiet about the team’s off-ice troubles.  Last season, goalie Christien Adamsson attacked the organization as “cheap” in a postgame rant.  (Adamsson wound up signing with Hershey as a free agent in the offseason.) While some of Adamsson’s teammates acknowledged the truth of his gibes off the record, they haven’t publicly expressed any reservations about the team’s situation.

Joe Freelander

That changed this week, when LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander – frustrated with the lack of progress on his contract negotiations – spoke bluntly about the Jackalopes’ financial limits.  Not only that, he went farther still, calling for the team to be sold and moved.

Freelander spoke to the media after Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan.  The winger’s rookie deal expires at the end of next season, and he said that his agent has been trying to discuss an extension with GM Paul Mindegaard.  “And what he keeps hearing is, ‘Sure, great, we want to get this done, we’ll get back to you with an offer,’ and nothing happens.”  Freelander said that his agent tried proposing a figure to get things moving, only to receive the same polite but noncommittal response from Mindegaard.

“Eventually, I realized that last year they did the same thing to Matt,” said Freelander, referring to ex-teammate Matt Cherner.  The Jackalopes stated, publicly and privately, that they wanted to sign Cherner to an extension.  But they reportedly never put forth a firm offer, and they ultimately traded him to the Quebec Tigres at the deadline.  Cherner signed with the Boston Badgers in the offseason.

“And if that’s the game, they should just say so,” said Freelander.  “If the real story is that they can’t find enough change between the couch cushions to re-sign me and they’re going to let me go, then be honest.  At least then I know where I stand.  But let’s skip the song and dance.”

Freelander went on, “I mean, we all know that this is a tiny market, and the crowds are getting smaller and smaller.  We’ve got eyes.  But if you’re so broke that you can’t keep key players like Matt and me, then shouldn’t they be looking at moving this team somewhere else?  I know nobody wants to say that, and we’re all supposed to pretend it’s going to work out.  But at some point, someone needs to tell the truth.”

Mindegaard claimed that Freelander and his agent his misunderstood the situation.  “It’s true that Joe’s agent has contacted us about an extension, which I appreciate,” the Jackalopes GM said.  “I told him that we were still evaluating our plans, and that we’d get back to him once we had a clearer sense of things.  I’m sure Joe was disappointed by that, but it’s just the business.”

The GM argued, as he has in the past, that claims about the team’s financial straits were overblown.  “Has attendance been where we’d like it to be this year?  No it hasn’t,” said Mindegaard.  “We’re in the middle of a rebuild, and we knew that could happen.  But it’s irresponsible to claim that this market can’t support a team, or that the team needs to move.  I’m fully committed, and ownership is committed, to making it work here in Dakota for the long haul.”

Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren, who reportedly considered resigning in the offseason due to concern about the direction of the team’s rebuild, declined to comment on Freelander’s remarks.  “Joe is a grown man and is entitled to his opinion,” Dahlgren said.  “As for my opinion, I don’t have one.  Team finances are not my responsibility, which is fortunate for everyone.  I am focused on my coaching, and that’s how I’ll keep it.”

Interview of the Week: Matt Cherner

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Matt Cherner.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with perhaps the biggest name to be dealt at this year’s trading deadline, Matt Cherner.  Matt, thanks for speaking with us.

Matt Cherner
Matt Cherner

Matt Cherner: Hello there.  We meet again!

SHLD: Yes, indeed!  We spoke to you last year, when you were a member of the Dakota Jackalopes.  At the time, you expressed a clear desire to stay and sign an extension.  A year later, you find yourself playing for another team and heading into free agency after the season.  What are your thoughts on that?

MC: Well, obviously, things didn’t work out like I thought.  I’d played my whole professional career with Dakota, and I wanted to stick around, even though it’s obvious that it’s going to be a rebuild there.  I felt a connection to the city and the fans.

SHLD: Your love for the team and the city was obvious.  When the trade went down, you broke down while you were talking to reporters about it.

MC: Yeah, that was huge for me, since I’m not a real emotional-type guy.  But it hit me like I was leaving home, because that’s what Dakota was to me.

SHLD: Did you have any conversations with the team about an extension before you were dealt?

MC: Yeah.  We tried to, at least.  Going into [last] offseason, my agent and I thought it would be great to go ahead and get the contract done, so that we wouldn’t have it hanging over us all season.  But [the Jackalopes] didn’t really engage.  They’d say things like, “We really appreciate you, and we want to get something done when the time is right,” but when it came time to talk numbers and term, they wouldn’t commit.

SHLD: That must have been tough for you, given your commitment to the team.

MC: Definitely.  We made it clear that I’d consider a bit of a hometown discount, but it didn’t help.  We threw some numbers at them to try to get things moving, and they’d say, “We don’t know if we can do that.”  We’d ask for a counter, and they wouldn’t.  So that was frustrating, but at least it let me know that the writing was on the wall.

SHLD: There have been a lot of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  Based on your negotiations, or lack thereof, do you think that’s true?

MC: I’m not going to speculate about that, because I don’t really know.  They never opened their books to show me or anything.  Besides, I’m focused on the future and looking forward, not back at the past.

SHLD: Fair enough!  Let’s talk about your new team, then.  How has your transition to the Tigres gone so far?

MC: It’s been really great.  All the guys have welcomed me, and the minute I set foot in the clubhouse, it was like I’d been there for years.  This is a team with a strong camaraderie and a good sense of their identity, and I feel like I’ve fit in great.

SHLD: And how has it been adjusting to life in Quebec?

MC: I like it!  Obviously, the vibe there is different than it is in Rapid City, but they both have that kind of small-town feel that I like.  If I’d been moving to, say, New York, it would have been a different thing.  And the fans in Quebec are really passionate, at least as much as the Dakota fans.  I couldn’t have asked for a much better environment for going somewhere new.

SHLD: The Tigres are hanging around the periphery of the Eastern playoff race, but they haven’t been able to break through so far.  What do you think the team needs to do in order to get back to the playoffs?

MC: We’ve just got to keep playing the disciplined, heavy hockey that we’re known for.  On offense, we’re doing a good job looking for quality shots.  Maybe if we can open it up a bit and activate the D a little more on offense, that would be good.  Mostly, I think we keep playing our game and good things will happen, especially once we get Zarko [C Drustan Zarkovich] and Fisk [LW Stellan Fisker] back.

SHLD: One last question: As we mentioned at the top of the interview, you’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.  Based on what you’ve seen with the Tigres so far, could you see yourself re-signing here?

MC: Hey, who knows where life takes me, right?  At the end of the season, I’ll be looking at my options and see whether they’re interested in me.  But I can definitely tell you that nothing I’ve seen so far would make me not want to stay here long-term.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Thanks again for your time, Matt, and good luck the rest of the season.

MC: Appreciate it.  The stretch run’s going to be crazy!

Jackalopes Slice Payroll Again, Deal Cherner, Anderson

One of the ongoing storylines in the SHL over the last couple of seasons has been the Dakota Jackalopes’ financial stability.  The Jackalopes have steadily pared payroll over the last couple of seasons, to the point that observers around the league have wondered whether the team will survive.  Those rumors bubbled up early this season when Dakota dealt netminder Dennis Wampler a few weeks after signing him to a sizable free-agent deal.  They swirled again a couple weeks later when goalie Christien Adamsson ripped the team as “cheap” in a postgame rant.

With the trading deadline arriving this week, the Jackalopes were expected to consider trades that would reduce their payroll even further.  They did just that, trading both of their top-pairing defenseman north of the border: Matt Cherner was dealt to the Quebec Tigres, while Rusty Anderson was sent to the surging Saskatchewan Shockers.

Predictably, the trades set off another round of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard stoutly rebuffed those rumors while announcing the deals to the press.  “Neither of these was a dump deal,” said Mindegaard.  “These are hockey trades, and we think they’re going to make us stronger in the long run.”

Mindegaard noted that both Cherner and Anderson will be free agents in this offseason, and that Dakota had concluded that they couldn’t resign either player.  “We’ve been in talks with Matt’s and Rusty’s agents for a while now, but we’ve recognized there isn’t a fit there,” the Dakota GM stated.  “And we’re not competing for a playoff spot, so we made the difficult decision to make these trades and get some value back.”

The trade of Cherner was particularly hard on both the player and the fans.  The defenseman has been with Dakota since the SHL’s inception, and he has developed over time into one of the league’s top two-way defensemen.  Cherner has also been vocal about his desire to stay with the Jackalopes.  When news of the deal came down, he broke down in front of reporters.

“I’ve really been hoping there was a way that this wouldn’t happen,” Cherner said.  “Playing for this team in front of these fans has been a real joy.  This has become my home.  I guess I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while, but now that it’s here, I just – just can’t… sorry, I have to stop now.”

In exchange for Cherner, the Tigres sent D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and their first-round pick to Dakota.  The 21-year-old Hanlon is having a solid rookie season with Quebec, putting up 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists).  Cunniff, also 21, has been a steady contributor with Quebec’s CHL affiliate (12 goals, 20 assists on the season), and he addresses a position of need for the Jackalopes, who are very weak in the middle.

“Matt’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and we weren’t going to let him go for cheap,” said Mindegaard.  “We got two very promising young guys – a quality blueliner and a top prospect center – plus a first.  I’ll stand behind that.”

Quebec, meanwhile, views Cherner as just the shot in the arm they need to make up ground in the East playoff race.  “Our identity is built around defense first,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “We’ve struggled a bit with keeping guys healthy, but we’ve added the best player available at the deadline.  I can’t wait to see what he achieves with us.”

To acquire Anderson, the Shockers parted with C Tanner Brooks.  The 22-year-old appeared in the CHL All-Star game; he’s known as strong on defense, and his offensive game has blossomed this season.  He’s widely regarded as the best center who hadn’t yet made the SHL.

“Tanner is a player we’ve coveted for a long time,” said Mindegaard.  “Between him and Jake Cunniff, we’ve gotten a lot stronger in our weakest area.  We’ve taken a step back on the blueline, but we have a lot of defensive prospects in the pipeline.”

This is the first time Saskatchewan has been a buyer at the deadline, and GM Cooper Matthews appreciates his haul.  “Rusty Anderson fits right in with our blueline corps, and strengthens us in an area where we’re already strong,” Matthews told reporters.  “It was a tough decision to part with Tanner, and I know I probably made [the Jackalopes] crazy going back and forth on that.  But we see an opportunity here, and we’re going for it.”

It must be noted that with the deals, the Jackalopes shaved about $2 million off of a payroll that was already second-lowest in the league.  Mindegaard stressed that he plans to work quickly to sign extensions with their newly-acquired players, as well as key members of their existing team.  “

“We’re not going broke, folks,” said the Dakota GM.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s fake news.”

Adamsson Slams Jackalopes as “Cheap”

It’s no surprise to anyone in SHL circles that the Dakota Jackalopes are a team with a tight budget.  They play in the smallest market in the league, and after loading up in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the power teams in the West, they’ve been cutting payroll the last couple of seasons.

If the Jackalopes players were upset about the cost-cutting, they’ve been quiet about it… until now.  G Christien Adamsson touched off a firestorm this week with a series of jokes accusing the organization of being cheap.

Christien Adamsson

Adamsson was interviewed after Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Saskatchewan, and he seemed visibly perturbed before the questions even started.  When a reporter asked the netminder if he was learning to coordinate with the team’s young defense, Adamsson snapped.

“Don’t say ‘young,’ say ‘cheap,’” the goalie said.  “Call it what it is.  This so-called ‘youth movement’ isn’t about building for the future, it’s about getting rid of the guys who make money.  You think they traded Wamp [G Dennis Wampler] to build for the future?”

Adamsson cited D Matt Cherner, who is in the final year of his contract, as an example of the team’s frugality.  “He loves it here, wants to stay.  He’d sign a lifetime deal here if he could.  But you know he’s going to get traded because they can’t afford him.  Just like Karly [C Lars Karlsson] and Bells [C Harvey Bellmore] last year.  Pretty soon, it’ll just be [LW] Ryan [Airston] and a bunch of 21-year-olds making the league minimum.  Maybe they won’t even keep Ryan.”

Adamsson finished on a light-hearted note: “We’re thinking about getting jobs at the Hardee’s down the street, or maybe starting a lemonade stand, so we can put a few bucks in the piggy bank and they might be able to keep some of our guys.  Every little bit helps, right?”

Adamsson’s jokes further fueled speculation that the Jackalopes were in serious financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard firmly shot down those rumors.  “Everybody is getting their paychecks, and we’re doing fine financially,” Mindegaard told reporters.  “Ask anyone around here.  Any of that kind of talk can just stop.”

The GM defended the Wampler deal and the team’s other recent moves, denying that the team was executing a mere salary dump.  “Before last season, ownership and I made the difficult decision that the team we had was not built to win a title.  Since then, we’ve been looking to move some of our veteran guys, load up on prospects, and give the younger guys a chance to shine.

“Do we have to be careful with our money?  Absolutely.  But are we just dumping salaries to be cheap?  Absolutely not.  Coming from Christien, a guy I consider to be a part of our Dakota family, that’s a disappointing remark.”

Mindegaard denied that the team had decided not to re-sign Cherner, saying “we’re actively engaged with Matt and his agent to see if there’s a fit.  How that will turn out, I don’t know, but we certainly haven’t closed the door.”

For his part, Cherner declined to comment on Adamsson’s assessment of Dakota’s finances.  “I’m letting my agent handle all that; I’m focused on the here and now.  All I can tell you is, nobody’s said no yet.”

Other players, while declining to comment on the record, indicated agreement with Adamsson.  “A lot of guys are wondering about their future,” said one player.  “Once their rookie contracts expire and they start making real money, are they out the door?  A lot of guys are watching to see what happens with Matt.  If he can’t get a big-money deal from this team, no one can.”

Interview of the Week: Matt Cherner

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes D Matt Cherner.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Matt Cherner, top defenseman for the Dakota Jackalopes.  Matt, thanks for speaking with us.

Matt Cherner

Matt Cherner: Sure thing, it’s my pleasure.

SHLD: At last week’s trading deadline, your name was one that came up often as a possible trade candidate.  But the deadline came and went, and you remained with Dakota, even as teammates like Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore were traded.  Are you happy to still be with the Jackalopes?

MC: Absolutely, I am.  The trading deadline can be tough on a guy, especially if he has a family like I do.  I’m very happy to still be here in Dakota.  My family is here, and my teammates and friends are here.  This is where I want to be.

SHLD: Even though it’s a rebuilding team that’s not going to the playoffs?

MC: Yes.

SHLD: You wouldn’t rather be on a contending team?

MC: I think it would be great if we were contending.  But leaving Dakota to go to another team… I’m happy here.

SHLD: What is it about Dakota that you like so much?

MC: Well, for one thing, it’s a small town, and I’m a small-town guy.  This reminds me a lot of my home back in Red Deer.  I feel at home here more than I would in New York or Seattle or Washington.  And there’s a real family feeling here.  The fans, the players, the coaches… we’re all part of one big family.  I love that.

SHLD: Speaking of Dakota being a small town: Your stats make a strong case for you as one of the league’s best defensemen.  And yet, when people talk about the best blueliners in the league, your name often gets overlooked.  Do you think that playing for Dakota hurts you in terms of league-wide recognition?

MC: I don’t know, it might.  Maybe if I played for New York or Michigan, more people would know about me.  But who cares?  I’m not doing this for glory.  I’m in this for love of the sport and to try to win games.  That’s what counts.

SHLD: Obviously, the Jackalopes have a lot of new faces this season: a new coach and a lot of new young players.  How do you feel about all the change?

MC: I think it’s great.  Coach [Flim] Dahlgren is a smart, patient guy, and he’s been doing a good job bringing everybody along.  And I like the young guys we’ve got, especially the defensemen.  We used to be an all-offense, super-aggressive kind of club, and we’re becoming more balanced.  I think we’ve got a great up-and-coming group, and I’ve taken it on myself to try to teach them whatever I can.

SHLD: Are there any young blueliners that you think we should really keep an eye on?

MC: Alex Angelos is a really remarkable guy; so fast, a terrific shot, a great head for offense.  You can’t teach natural talent like that.  I’ve been working with him on polishing his defensive skills: backchecking, gapping up, things like that.  And Sergei Trefilov is a great, rugged defender.  He reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger.

SHLD: One more question.  Your contract is up at the end of next season.  Are you looking to sign a long-term extension to keep you in Dakota?

MC: I can’t speak to what the team has in mind, or if I’m in their plans long-term.  But I can say that I’m definitely open to that.  I’m happy here, and I think we’re building in the right direction.  If the team is interested in making that kind of commitment, I’d love to have that conversation.

SHLD: Well, Matt, thanks for your time and good luck the rest of the season!

MC: I appreciate it.

2018 Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held at Michigan’s Cadillac Place, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageIt’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the Igloos winger, but it’s his first time being voted into the starting lineup.  In a reverse of last year’s results, Koons was voted in over Dakota’s “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  He had a breakout season in 2017, scoring 44 goals and 90 points and winning the MVP award.  He hasn’t been on that same pace this season, but he’s off to a solid point; his 35 points put him in the top 10 in the league.

D: Fritz Kronstein, MichiganThe Wolves remain the top defensive squad in the SHL, and their top defensive pairing was rewarded with their second straight starting appearance.  This season, Kronstein was the top-vote getter among all defensemen, a recognition of his emergence as a two-way force.  He leads the Wolves with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he is the leader among all blueliners in the league in plus-minus with a +24 rating.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  For the second straight season, Frost was the runaway winner of the starting center spot for the West, garnering almost 60% of the votes at the position.  The tall center has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since his debut, and this season is no exception; his 22 goals are the fourth-highest total in the SHL.  “Having Koonsy and Frosty out there on the top line, that makes you feel good as a coach,” said Castor.  “With the kind of year we’re having, I wasn’t taking that for granted.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  It wasn’t clear whether Madison was going to be able to make the game, as he has missed the last three weeks with a lower-body injury.  But he has declared that he’s “feeling great and ready to go,” and plans to make his return to the ice in front of his home crowd.  Madison’s numbers have taken a hit due to his injury, but he was off to a solid start before getting hurt, putting up 3 goals and 7 assists in the first 15 games of the season.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The Sailors sniper has proven to be a polarizing figure around the league, as his theatrical goal celebrations and loquaciousness with the press rub some traditionalist fans the wrong way.  But he’s attracted enough fans to squeak out a narrow victory in fan voting, garnering a few thousand more votes than Michigan’s Gordon Lunsford and Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  Mango is known for his scoring, and he has 16 tallies on the season, which places him among the Top 10 in the league.  Mango described the results as a “changing of the guard.”

 

Second Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, SaskatchewanThe Shockers winger makes his second straight All-Star appearance.  Chamberlain continues to be the driving force behind Saskatchewan’s offense, leading the team in both goals (with 13) and points (29).  But he’s also not just a force on offense; he’s known around the league as a diligent and capable two-way player.  Although the Shockers have slipped back in the playoff race recently, Chamberlain’s play has been a key to their push to contend.

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. For the second season in a row, Chamberlain and Barnes represent the Shockers’ only All-Star representatives.  Barnes continues to emerge as one of the SHL’s top blueline talents.  His 21 assists are the most among Saskatchewan players, and he’s also managed to light the lamp four times.  In addition, he’s a rugged and hard-hitting defender who’s been nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates due to his ability to deny opposing skaters entry into the offensive zone.  He’s even in plus-minus rating this season, one of only three Saskatchewan players not in the negative.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota.  Karlsson is one of two Jackalopes players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game, although it’s hard to know how much longer he will remain in a Dakota uniform.  Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after rentals, as the rebuilding ‘Lopes seem unlikely to resign him.  The veteran center has done a good job blocking out the distractions and is putting up a fine season, leading the team in both goals (15) and points (31).

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. The top two defensive pairings for the West look the same this year as last, as Castor turned to his veteran puck-moving stalwart to fill out the second pair.  Keefe turns 33 this season, but is playing like a man a decade younger.  He’s got the best offensive numbers among the Igloos’ defensive corps, with 8 goals and 19 assists on the season.  He’s a hard-checking defenseman who likes to scrap, and he’s one of the league’s best at steals and forcing turnovers as well.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. As mentioned above, Ericsson narrowly missed being voted into a starting slot on the Western squad, and Castor had no hesitation about picking his own player to complete the second line. Despite having what for him is a bit of a down season (7 goals, 20 assists), Ericsson continues to be regarded as one of the league’s elite passers.  “He could fit a puck through the eye of a needle if he had to,” said Castor.

 

Third Line

LW: Pascal Royal, Kansas CityThe SHL requires that every team be represented on the All-Star teams, and Royal is the Smoke’s lone representative.  The 27-year-old winger has had something of a career resurgence in KC, and he leads the team in points (31) and assists (19).  The All-Star Game is something of a showcase for Royal, who seems a likely possibility to be moved at the trading deadline.

D: Matt Cherner, Dakota.  Cherner makes his first-ever All-Star appearance.  Like his Jackalopes teammate Karlsson, he’s likely to attract attention from teams around the trading deadline, although given that his contract doesn’t expire until 2020, he’s less likely to be moved.  Cherner is one of the league’s best offensive-minded defensemen, and he’s putting up a strong season, scoring 7 goals and 23 assists to date.

CWarren Marlow, Michigan. Marlow was not originally chosen as an All-Star last season, but he wound up going as a replacement after teammate Hunter Bailes suffered an injury in the days before the game.  He is the only Wolves player selected by Castor… a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Cadillac Place. Marlow has actually recorded more points than Bailes so far this season (27 to 26), although Bailes has scored more goals (18 to 13).  He also has the unusual distinction of being one of four regular starters in the SHL who has yet to record a penalty this season.

D: Dave Frederick, Anchorage. In a selection considered debatable by some, Castor tabbed the 31-year-old Frederick to make his All-Star debut in the West’s bottom pairing.  Wolves fans argued for the selection of Brooks Zabielski or Frank Mudrick over Frederick, while Sailors supporters protested that Doron Lidjya was unfairly snubbed.  In fairness to Frederick, he has some points in his favor: he’s second among Western defenders in plus-minus at +19, and he’s produced on offense, putting up 4 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

RW: Elliott Pepper, Seattle. The Sailors get their second representative in Pepper, who’s making his first All-Star appearance.  The winger got off to a strong start that earned him Player of the Week honors in the season’s first week.  He’s cooled off some since, but he remains one of the league’s better offensive performers, with 16 goals (tied with fellow All-Star Mango for the Seattle team lead) and 13 assists so far on the year.

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan.  Although the SHL’s best-bearded goalie isn’t quite as dominant this season as he has been in years past, he still won the starting nod handily, according to the fan vote.  Lundquist’s numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, either: his 18 wins are tied for the league lead, while his 1.91 GAA is second-best and his .926 save percentage is good for third overall.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. The Igloos netminder will be the Western backup once again this time around. Although Worthington got off to something of a slow start this season, he’s rebounded nicely in recent weeks, helping Anchorage firm up their hold on second place in the West.  Overall, his numbers remain quite respectable: 13-11-0, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage  — good enough to get the nod over Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.